The initial facts of Monday’s train derailment Monday in Washington state are that three people died when the Amtrak train failed to slow to the 30-mph speed reduction and left the track at 80 mph.
But questions abound: Why didn’t the engineer slow the train to the required 30 mph? Did he lose situational awareness? If so, why? Was it a lack of training? And why is it taking so long to deploy positive train control (PTC), which could have prevented this and many other accidents?
“My initial reaction was that it’s completely tragic and never should have happened,” said John Risch, national legislative director of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Transportation Division. “Did the guy know the curve was coming up?
It’s not likely the engineer just blew off the 30-mph speed reduction. He either was distracted, didn’t know it was coming or perhaps there was a mechanical issue. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation will take months. The NTSB will have access to onboard cameras and voice recorders.
There was a report of another person, other than the engineer and conductor, in the cab at the time of the crash and the NTSB will look to determine if there was someone else in the cab and what distractions there were as a result.
Whatever the cause, the accident highlights issues that have been raised repeatedly in recent years. One issue is training. Every track has unique characteristics, Risch said. It can take a while to become familiar with a track, and part of training is familiarization trips on each track.